She pulled a thin, fleece blanket over her shoulders and talked to no one in particular, but maybe to me: “I’m making it. I just can’t believe it. I never thought I could do it, but look at me. I am making it on my own.”
We were in a church basement on thin insulation mats. It had been an unseasonably warm day, but more than 60 people showed up to the Norfolk Emergency Shelter Team (NEST) at Trinity Presbyterian for dinner and a safe place to sleep. NEST is a group of local churches that provide shelter during the winter for people without homes.
She showed me the passport photos she’d had taken that day, told me about her plans and hopes for the next few months, alluded to the heartache of her past, and kindly refused to engage with the argumentative woman next to us (who called me a moron).
I was doing a final call for the night to see if anyone needed anything: toiletries (“Soap doesn’t do me much good when I have to wait all day just to get a shower!” said the argumentative lady), a jacket (no thank you), pants (“Do you have any jeans? I have interview pants, but I can’t find an interview. I moved down here to find a job but it’s been a lot harder to find work than I expected,” said a woman my age). Most of the women had gone straight to sleep after dinner.
But the woman with the passport photos was just settling down. We chatted about Texas. She asked if I was married. I said yes, but that he was deployed.
She physically reacted, recoiling in horror. She stared at me. “That is the worst thing in the world,” she said slowly.
Here the argumentative woman broke in. “If being on your own is the worst thing you can imagine, you must not have been through much.”
The passport photo woman had clearly been through plenty. She blinked back tears and said, “It IS the worst thing in the world. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”
I deflected. “Yeah, it’s hard on the kids. Do you have kids?” She didn’t. The argumentative lady got more hostile and started to rant.
I’m not trying to be flip; I don’t know anything about mental illness, but it seemed clear to me the argumentative lady could have been dealing with some. She was getting louder and louder, so I said, “Well, I think most people are trying to sleep, so I’ll stop bothering y’all. Sure you don’t need anything?”
I pulled the door shut behind me and thought: a heartbroken woman with no home thinks my life is the worst thing in the world.
Last winter, I took my sad self to counseling. “I am feeling really hopeless, and then I hate myself for feeling hopeless. Some single mom in Africa would probably look at me in my house with central heating and a husband who makes enough money and say I have it easy.” It was not easy; Chris was gone, Eloise pooped every 90 minutes, Isaac was potty training, it was winter, nothing in our house worked and I was in constant pain. But it could be worse. It could always be worse.
Anyway, the counselor said, “You don’t know what that person might think. She might or might not think you have it easy. You don’t know, so it’s not really relevant.”
Fast forward a year to this past January. I was in Africa at exactly a year after that first conversation with my counselor. An Ugandan woman asked if I was married and what my husband does. I said he works on a boat for months at a time.
She physically reacted, recoiling in horror. “Oh!” she said. “I am sorry for you!”
She was right! I thought. My counselor was right! Soon after I got back to Norfolk I made an appointment and told her so. “Wow, I feel so validated as a counselor right now!” she said.
So I guess the point of this is: MY LIFE SUCKS! LOTS OF PEOPLE THINK SO! I THOUGHT WE WERE HAPPY! But apparently, I’m living a nightmare! What is that about?!
UPDATE: I was trying to be funny at the end but multiple people contacted me to see if I was losing it (thank you—that was kind). To clarify, my general point is that everyone’s perspective is different. I thought those ladies’ situations seemed awful in some ways, and they felt the same about me! So it looks like we’re all good here.
Also, I went to counseling because a friend told me openly how counseling had helped her. Before that, it wouldn’t have even occurred to me to make an appointment. It was a helpful way to talk through some big changes. I recommend it! And it’s free at Navy Fleet and Family Support. Or you can get a part time job at the Chrysler Museum of Art, which has similar therapeutic effects!